[Content note: suicide]
Last night I stepped off a stage and ended up in 1971.
My brother and I were the featured act at an open mic night I’ve played at many times before, a mix of musicians and comedians. It’s fun, although inevitably you have to put up with the odd person whose pub pals have told him he’s hilarious and who really isn’t. Last night’s example of that was the old man who got up on stage after our (fantastic, if I say so myself) performance.
I’ve seen him before. He’s a peddler of seventies-variety “take my wife, please” jokes with a whiff of misogyny to them. Last night the whiff became a stench. His new material is about lap dancing, his horror of women who groom their pubic hair, and in a piece he’s clearly very proud of, a horrible nightmare in which a beautiful woman turns out to be “a ladyboy”.
He isn’t the only stand-up to decide trans jokes are where it’s at. Last night, popular US stand-up Dan Telfer wrote on Twitter:
I am so fucking sick of transphobic jokes at stand-up open mics. It is absolutely everywhere and comedians who pretend it‘s not are in denial. There is nothing awkward or yucky to joke about here, cis folks. Take a long hard look at your bullshit shock jokes, for fucking serious.
it clearly touched a nerve: the post has been liked by 31.4 thousand people so far. Lots of comedians are doing the same stale jokes like it’s 1971.
Nobody’s saying you can’t make trans jokes. I did last night, on the very same stage between songs, and got some big laughs. But if your punchline is “Ugh! Trans!” then you’re a hack.
Last night’s hack didn’t have any new spin to offer, no hilarious take: his joke was that he had a dream, there was a sexy woman in it, she was trans. The expectation was that the room would share his disgust, but it didn’t and he died on his arse. Judging by the daggers he was looking at me later, he blamed me for that.
Good. I usually hate seeing comics die on stage, no matter how bad they are, but this was thoroughly deserved. I had to sit ten feet away – our table was at the very front – from a man who hoped to mine laughs from sharing his horror of bodies like mine. Imagine how it feels to sit through that, to feel every pair of eyes in the room turn to look at you as it becomes clear what the punchline is going to be. Those feelings linger long after the hack has come off stage.
“Ugh, trans” isn’t a punchline. It’s a punch down. The idea of trans people deceiving straight men is so commonly used as an excuse for violence and sexual violence against us that there’s a name for it: the trans panic defence. The idea that trans people are disgusting, horrific, worthy of nothing but contempt – a trope that is still very common, especially in comedy – keeps many of us in the closet and continues to harm us when we’re out of it. If the world keeps telling you you’re a monster, it’s hard not to believe it.
When I got home from the gig last night, I read a long blog post by another Scottish trans woman, Becca, roughly the same age as me. “After six years of being on hormones and presenting completely female, I am still getting misgendered far too frequently and as the years have gone by, the sheer hopelessness of it all has finally sunk in,” she wrote. “I would honestly rather be dead than seen as a ‘man in a dress’.”
It was a scheduled post, timed to go live hours after it has been written. By the time it was published, Becca had stepped in front of a train.